Alaska judge upholds forward funding for education

By Lex Treinen | Posted: Thu 5:32 PM, Nov 07, 2019 | Updated: Thu 5:56 PM, Nov 07, 2019
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska In a blow to the Department of Law, a Superior Court judge in Anchorage upheld prior appropriation of future revenues - also known as "forward funding" - for education.

The Department of Law said the decision is unfair and could have unintended consequences.

"This decision upends the appropriations process as we know it and could lead to one legislature and governor setting the budget five, six or more years in advance,” said Attorney General Kevin G. Clarkson in a release.

He continued to say that an appeal will follow.

"This issue is too important not to appeal and get final guidance from the Alaska Supreme Court, so we all know going forward what the rules are."

The legal fight stems from a budget battle after the 2018 legislature committed revenue to fund education for the fiscal year of 2020. The Dunleavy administration issued an opinion in May of 2019 that the legislature had overstepped its authority by appropriating money it didn't have. Legislators and educators argued that reliable funding was essential for school districts who needed to plan for upcoming school years and diminished their ability to retain qualified teachers. Previous budget fights forced districts to temporarily pink-slip teachers until budgets were reinstated.

The legislature sued the governor in mid-July on the grounds that the executive branch had failed to disburse appropriated funds as is its constitutional duty, but the two sides agreed to fund education on a monthly basis until the suit is settled.

In the decision, Judge Daniel Schally wrote that "The legislature's chosen solution to the actual or perceived problem in public education is rational" because they served an important purpose, as well as one mandated in the constitution: maintaining a system of public education.

The decision also addressed the state's arguments that the state constitution mandates appropriations only be made for the following fiscal year, saying that while clauses in the constitution might suggest such a reading, none of them explicitly mandate it.

"While Alaska's constitutional framers sought to protect state control over state revenue and to ensure legislative flexibility ... it is also apparent that the framers did not intend to prevent the state from experimenting and adapting to changing circumstances," wrote Schally.

The decision ordered the state to disburse the appropriated funds, prohibited the state from withholding funds from other appropriations, and requires the state to provide an accounting of all the money for the appropriation.

A final judgment is pending.

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